‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’ is a clever, quick, and concise film

[rating=3]Starring: Andy Garcia, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Treat Williams, Jack Warden, Steve Buscemi, and Fairuza Balk
Director(s): Gary Fleder
Writer(s): Scott Rosenberg

Andy Garcia in 'Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead'
Andy Garcia in ‘Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead’

“Give it a name…” is a phrase that is often used in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead as a way of saying, “…tell it like it is”, a phrase of communicating to a friend that someone understands and agrees with them. This phrase, in a film that uses stylish language to portray a criminal subculture, captures the essence of what this film is all about. The title of the film establishes virtually every action and word spoken about a world where people know and understand that their life is limited because of who they are and what they do.

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead is a clever, quick, and concise film, using a minimalist approach to storytelling and carrying very little baggage, rarely including details that don’t deal with the basic ideas of the story. Released in 1995, it is a post Reservoir Dogs movie in which rapid, smart, character driven dialogue between criminal characters, and an ever-present feeling of impending doom and violence establishes sympathy for otherwise unlikable characters.

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead is about a wiseguy named Jimmy the Saint, played by Andy Garcia, who has gone straight but is pulled back into the criminal underground for one last job. For this job, he decides to get together some of his buddies, his old crew, which rounds out an ensemble cast that includes Christopher Lloyd and William Forsythe. Inevitably and tragically, the job goes wrong and the crew is made to deal with the consequences of working for a sadistic boss played by Christopher Walken.

This film is littered with lead-role character actors who make it easy to pair off for brief and clever conversational banter in which a complete yet separate world is established through the mixture of real and fiction underworld language and actions. Because many of the characters in the film are aware of their nearing death, language and the need to communicate to those they are leaving behind becomes a strong focus for them. Through the use of voiceovers, Jimmy the Saint’s legitimate job as the owner of a company that allows terminally ill people to leave video diaries becomes the structural framework for the film.

Voice-overs are a filmmaking tool that can easily be overused, but works in this film because of how these speeches are an actual part of these character’s lives. The reality created by the wonderful acting and stylish storytelling allows Things to Do… to create a mood in which some actions and characters that might not exist in the real world are allowed to walk and talk and bring the audience a point of view not otherwise available.

Although sparse, the DVD is of pretty good; I had no problems with the picture quality and the audio actually had some moments of interesting sound design that were part of the film and came through on this DVD version. There is only a brief Special Features section that includes a trailer and a small documentary, which talks a little about the language and characters of the film. I was glad to see the documentary because the film is so stylistic within it’s genre; it was good to have a little insight into the mentality of the writer and the actors who developed and portrayed the characters.

In any good DVD collection, there are various types of films. Some DVDs are bought because they are great films, some are bought because they hold a special, personal quality for the owner, and others are owned because they fulfill a certain need. Rainy or snowy Sunday afternoons are for staying home, drinking hot chocolate, and watching an older, maybe somewhat forgotten film on cable. However, because of some of the language and content, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Deadmay never make it to broadcast television and so I paid the $10 to own it on DVD.

It is well worth it.

Rated: R
Run Time: 1 hr., 55 mins.

Dale Wilson

Dale Wilson is a writer and artist living with his wife and dog in Los Angeles, what is now his fifth hometown. Dale has worked in several areas of art including writing, video, and installation but has a love for film and comic books.

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